Paper - Embryology in war-time britain

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Boyd JD. Embryology in war-time Britain. (1943) Anat. Rec., .

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This historic 1943 paper by Boyd describes embryology research in the United Kingdom (Britain) during the second world war years.
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Embryology in War-time Britain

James Dixon Boyd

Professor of Anatomy, University of London


The study of embryology in Britain has necessarily been diminished by the war. Those human anatomists whose interests lay in the field of descriptive embryology are either carrying on their teaching with much reduced staffs, often under evacuation conditions, and with little time to spare for research, or they are in the medical branches of the Armed Services.

Those zoologists who were concerned with much of the experimental embryology are also in the Services or are engaged on research work of national importance in fields where their specialized knowledge of certain aspects of the basic sciences has been of significance. Departments, too, have suffered from direct enemy action and much valuable, some irreplaceable, material has been destroyed. Finally, the publication of work done is made much more difiiciult by necessary paper restrictions, diminished supply of material for block making and labor shortage in the printing and binding trades.

In spite of these difficulties, however, a number of investigators have managed to produce work of definite interest and importance and it is the intention of this article to draw attention to some of this work.

Investigations Into Development of Monotremata

Flynn and Hill (’42), in continuation of their investigations on the early development of the Monotremata, based on material which is unique and irreplaceable, have published a preliminary communication on the later stages of cleavage and the formation of the primary germ layers. The most striking result of this investigation is the demonstration of a. fundamental agreement in the mode of formation of the primary germ layers in the monotremes and marsupials, and it affords further and striking proof of the close phylogenetic relationship of the Ornithodelphian and Didelphian stocks. It is very fortunate that Prof. J. P. Hill, who has such a wide knowledge of early marsupial and monotreme development, should have been able to collaborate in this important investigation.

Among other interesting work on the descriptive embryology of the mammalia is a contribution by Amoroso, Griffith and Hamilton (’42) on the early development of the goat and one by Samuel and Hamilton (’42) on living eggs of the golden hamster, Cricetus auratus.

A number of early human embryos have been described by British embryologists in the past 3 years. Johnston ( ’40, ’41) has given a full report on an early embryo (H.R. 1) which is at approximately the same stage of development as Grosser’s H. Schm. 10. Dible and West (’41) have described a human ovum at the pre-villous stage which shows a number of interesting features. They also discuss the origin of the exocoelomic membrane, the yolk sac and the amnion. This ovum is a particularly valuable one but, unfortunately, no menstrnal data were available so that its age can only be surmised. Its general stage of development, however, enables one to say that it cannot be much older than 12 days.

Odgers (’41) has given an account of a presomite human embryo, aged about 22 days, which possesses a number of interesting features, including a chorda canal. Gladstone (’41) and Hamilton (’42) have together given a full report on another presomite human embryo, of 20 to 23 days’ age, with a chorda canal and a. primitive streak. They have devoted special attention to the vascular system and their investigation throws new light on the early differentiation of the earliest generations of blood-cells.

Interesting Papers from Strangeways Research Laboratory

In the field of developmental mechanics VVaddington (’42a), has published a paper on the results of translocations of the organizer in the gastrula of Discoglossus. In this investigation it was shown that translocated pieces of different regions of the organizer, in young-gastrulae of D. pictus, retained their original potentialities for gastrulation movements. These movements were such that only very incomplete mingling of regions was brought about which may account for the absence of any definite inductive interactions between different regions. The host “regulated” to form a complete embryo within which the graft lay as a more or less independent mass of tissue.

On the relationship of gene activity to embryonic development reference can be made to the work of Lees and Waddington (’42) on the development of bristles in normal and mutant types of Drosophila melanogaster; of VVaddington (’42 b and c) on body color genes and on pupal contraction as a possible “epigenetic crisis” in the development of Drosophila: and of Pilkington (’42) on the structure and development of the compound e_ves in normal and facet-mutant varieties of D. melanogaster.

Several interesting papers have appeared from the Strangeways Research Laboratory, in continuation of the work of Miss Fell and her collaborators, on bone development and n-rowth. Jacobson and Fell (’41) have investigated the origin and early development of the muscles, cartilage and bone of the embryonic chick mandible. The technique employed was explantation of small portions of different areas of the jaw region in vitro with careful histological control of the precise site of origin of the explant. The subsequent differentiation of the explants appears to demonstrate that the myogenic cells migrate into the mandibular arch, as a histologically distinct group, between the second and third days, and that they are “determined” to form cross-striated muscle as early as the third day.

The chondrogenic cells originate from a small proliferation center immediately beneath the buccal epithelium of the branchial arch and they are “determined” to form cartilage in the 3-day jaw. The osteogenic cells destined to form the angular, surangular and splenial bones arise from a proliferation site which appears at the fourth day a11d which later divides, by cell degeneration, to form the rudiments of these three bones. The cells of the initial proliferation center are already “determined” to form bone in the 4-day mandible. The dentary arises a little later (fifth day) from a separate proliferation center and its cells are self-differentiating when explanted at the fifth day.

This contribution is of great interest and importance in the significant problem of early localization of differentiation in the embryos of higher Vertebrates. Glucksman (’42), from the same laboratory, has studied the effects of mecl1anical stresses on cartilage and bone grown in Vitro. His results demonstrate quite clearly that pressure and tension stresses exerted on cartilage in Vitro cause a reorientation of the cells and lead to a disintegration of the hyaline matrix and its replacement by a fibrillar system. Tension stresses promote bone formation in osteogenic tissue in vitro and determine the pattern of the resulting osseous architecture. Glucksman’s general conclusion is that skeletal tissue cultivated in Vitro responds directly to mechanical stresses.

Ascorbic Acid Distribution in Cells and Tissues

Another interesting development is the work of Barnett and Bourne (’41, ’42) who have studied the distribution of ascorbic acid in the cells and tissues of the developing chick embryo, basing their results on the acid nitrate technique. They give details for different tissues and organs and discuss the possible relationship of the ascorbic acid to intra-cellular organelles. They also discuss the possible role of ascorbic acid in developmental processes. This work opens up an important field of investigation and, doubtless, will be applied to the embryos of other animal groups.

Other contributions of interest to embryologists and foetal physiologists have appeared on the foetal circulation and deal particularly with the mechanisms for separation of the blood streams in the foetal right atrium, the ductus venosus and the closure of the foramen ovale and the ductus arteriosus (Franklin, Barclay and Prichard, ’41; Amoroso, Barclay, Franklin and Prichard, ’42; Amoroso, Franklin and Prichard, ’42; and Boyd, ’41).

Finally several books of considerable interest to embryologists have appeared in the course of the war years. de Beer ( ’40) has published, in new format and with an enlargement of the argument, a new edition of his well known “Embryology and Evolution.” This little book had been out of print and, under its new title of “Embryos and Ancestors” it must be regarded as the soundest statement available on the rela tion of embryological fact to the theory of recapitulation.

Waddington’s book, “Organizers and Genes” (’40), is one of the series of Cambridge Biological Studies and it repre sents a considerable contribution to the diflicult problem of the relationships between gene activity, as demonstrated by modern’ genetic research, and the facts relating to organizers which have been revealed by the investigators of the causal mechanics of development.

Needham’s eagerly anticipated “Biochemistry and Morphogenesis” has recently appeared (Cambridge University Press, ’42). This large volume is in part a bringing up to date of the material which appeared in the author’s “Chemical Embryology,” but it is much more than this and represents a fundamental contribution to the theory of morphogenesis which can be neglected by no one interested in the processes which “mint and coin” the organism from the egg.

Sir D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson (’42) has again placed all biologists in his debt by the publication of a second edition of his “On Growth and Form.” The first edition of this book appeared in 1916, during the first World war, and it was such a mine of precious information and such a helpful guide to action for biologists generally that it had long been out of print and had, indeed, achieved the distinction of a real scarcity value. The new edition is slightly larger and is brought up to date, but it has not changed in spirit and represents the distillation of the life-long thoughts of one who is a classical scholar of distinction, a considerable mathematician and a great biologist. Here, indeed, as Needham puts it, is one of the golden books,” invaluable to any embryologist.

Embryology in War-time Britain, like the island in which it is studied, is a beleaguered fortress in which principles have been kept inviolate and where interest in long-range projects has been kept active and alive by a much reduced group of investigators. Working under abnormal conditions and with many special duties (intensive teaching, A. R-. P., First Aid, and Service in the front line, at home and abroad) these investigators have managed to produce a surprisingly large amount of work, only some of which could be referred to here.

They are symbolized by that embryologist who emerged from his blitzed house with a box of microscopic slides tucked under his arm!

Literature Cited

AMOROSO, E. C., A. E. BARCLAY, K. J. FRANKLIN AND M. M. L. PRICHARD 1942 J. Anat., vol. 76, pp. 240-247.

Amonoso, E. 0., K. J. FRANKLIN AND M. M. L. PRIOHARD 1942 J. Auat., vol. 76, pp. 240-247.

Amoaoso, E. 0., W. F. GRIFFITH AND W. J. HAMILTON 1942 J. Anat., V01. 76, pp. 377-406.

BARNETT, S. A., AND G. BOURNE 1941 J. Anat., vol. 76, pp. 18-31.

1942 Quart. J. Micros. Sci, vol. 83, pp. 259—298.

BOYD, J. D. 1941 J. Anat., vol. 75, pp. 457-468.

DE BEER, G. R. 1940 Embryos and Ancestors. Oxford University Press.

DIBLE, J. H., AND C. M. WEsT 1941 J. Anat., vol. 75, pp. 269-281.


FLYNN, T. T., AND J. P. HILL 1942 Proc. Zool. Soc. London, A. vol. 111, pp. 233-253.

FRANKLIN, K. J., A. E. BARTLAY AND M. M. L. PRICHARD 1941 J. Anat., vol. 75, pp. 75-88.

GLUCKSMAN, A. 1942 J. Anat., vol. 76, pp. 231-239.

GLADSTONE, R. .I., AND W. J. HAMILTON 1941 J. Anat., vol. 76, pp. 9-H.

HAMILTON, W. J., AND R. J. GLADstoNE 1942 J. Anat., vol. 76, pp. 187-203.

JACOBSON, W., mm H. B. Fm. 1941 Quart. J. Micros. sci, vol. 82‘, pp. 47-69.

JOHNSTON, T. B. 1940 J. Anat., V01. 75, pp. 1-49. 1941 J. A11at., vol. 75, pp. 153-163.

LEES, A. D., AND C. H. WADDINGTON 1942 Proc. Roy. Soc., London, B., vol. 131, pp. 87-110. NEEDHAM, J. 1942 Biochemistry and Morphogenesis. Cambridge University Press.

PILKINGTON, R. W. 1942 Proc. Z001. Soc., London, A., Vol. 111, pp. 233-253.

ODGERS, P. N. B. 1941 J. Anat., vol. 75, pp. 381-388.

SAMUEL, D. M., AND W. J. HAMILTON 1942 J. Anat., Vol.76, pp. 204-209.

THOMPSON, SIR D’ARcY WENTWORTH 1942 On Growth and Form. Cambridge University Press.

WADDINGTON, C. H. 1940 Organizers and Genes. Cambridge University Press. 1942 :1 Proc_ Z001. Soc., London, A., Vol. 111, pp. 189-198. 1942 :1 Proc. Z001. Soc., London, 0A., vol. 111, pp. 173-180. 19-12 (3 Proc. Z001. Soc., London, A., vol. 111, pp. 181-188.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2021, May 17) Embryology Paper - Embryology in war-time britain. Retrieved from

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